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~ Mel's Texas-Style Chili Sauce & Texas Chili Dogs ~

6a0120a8551282970b0134892d3b28970cIn the 1950's, '60's and '70's, my hometown of Tamaqua, PA, had two "hot spots" to eat hot dogs:

  The Coney Island, and, The Texas Lunch.

75247478_3204566692918999_3788699980194119680_oMy family ate at The Texas Lunch exclusively. 

Texas Lunch #2 Both establishments were triangular in shape and were located at opposite corners of Broad Street's "Five Points", the town's main thoroughfare.  Both served lunch daily to at least 100 people, but only had counter seating for 12 and 6 respectively.  The hot dogs were literally passed out the doors to customers standing on the sidewalk, like buckets of water to a fire (while pending orders and money were shouted and passed up the line).  "Two for a dollar (no tax, no change)", "with or without (meaning onions)", was all the information and only option patrons were given.  Both of these two luncheonettes had sweltering, year-round internal temperatures and "sweaty" windows, caused by steam billowing off of their flat top grills.  The similarities ended there.  Those who ate at The Coney Island, NEVER ate at The Texas Lunch and vice versa.  Don't ask me why.  My family ate at The Texas Lunch.  This is a photo of my beloved Texas Lunch (taken shortly before they tore it down), which was supplied to me by the Managing Editor of Tamaqua's daily paper, The Times News -- thank-you Donnie Serfass.

995034_10201331094988137_1673508422_nThis photo of The Texas Lunch was shared with me by another Tamaqua Area High School graduate and resident, Lois Breiner. Lois took this photo herself with a Polaroid and the guy in the blue T-shirt is Dino (the owner) hard at work.   As you can see, even when it was in full-swing, it wasn't much prettier to look at, but -- it assuredly wasn't the atmosphere we were there for.

In the photo below, Fred De Stephanis found and shared this advertisement from a 1930 copy of TAHS's yearbook, The Sphinx. Thanks Fred for sharing this part of Tamaqua hot dog history with me: 

7262_10151470327016795_1286136790_nWhat's a Texas Chili Dog?

Texas chili dogs are slathered with yellow mustard and topped with an ever-so-slightly chunky, to-the-tooth chewy, aromatic all-meat chili.  You'd think they were from Texas, but they actually were the invention of an unnamed Greek gentlemen who owned and operated a small restaurant in Paterson, New Jersey.  In 1924, he devised a chili sauce that drew upon flavors and spices of his heritage.  Much like Cincinnati chili, a dish also created by Greek immigrants, Texas chili sauce included cloves as well as garlic and other spices.  According to legend, because the chili was made with hand-ground steak, not ground beef, it earned the "Texas" part of its name.  Yes, authentic recipes are made with steak.

Texas chili dogs quickly caught on and spread from Patterson into western Connecticut and Pennsylvania, which is where I grew up and fell in love with them at a very young age.

PICT2687The recipe I am sharing with you today was completely developed by me back in the late 1970's, and, was recognized in 2007 by America's Test Kitchen in Boston in their cookbook:  America's Best Lost Recipes.  (For those of you unfamiliar with who they are, they publish Cook's Country and Cook's Illustrated magazines, along with many cookbooks and have the acclaimed PBS cooking show America's Test Kitchen.)  My recipe, which appears on page 40 of the book, was chosen from over 2,800 to represent 121 slices (recipes) of Americana.  So what did they consider a lost recipe and how did they choose?  As per the Introduction of their book: 

"Just like a short story, a lost recipe has a narrative.  Like a book title, the name has to hold out a promise, an expectation of something unusual.  A lost recipe is served, and that first taste, like the last line of an O. Henry story, is a reawakening, a connection to another cook, perhaps a long time ago, who lived a very different life.  In a way, a good lost recipe is about tasting the past and, many times, that experience is more immediate and fulfilling than simply reading history."

I remember the day I told my son Jess that my recipe was chosen to appear in this book.  He said something like, "of the hundreds and hundreds of recipes you've developed, why would you submit a recipe for a chili dog?"  That too is a short story I must include in this post.

IMG_7844When my love for Texas Chili Dogs turned into a passion.

When I moved to State College back in 1974, one of the things I missed most about my hometown (I grew up in Hometown) was a weekly chili dog.  Yes, I said weekly.  You see, when I was growing up, grocery shopping day was Tuesday.  No matter what, on Tuesdays, 52 times a year, we ate chili dogs at the Texas Lunch.  Sometimes we ate them for lunch and sometimes we ate them for dinner, but we ate them on Tuesdays before we shopped.  I was shocked when I ordered my first chili dog in a downtown State College diner (which I no longer recall the name).  In my ignorance, I thought them to be idiots, not realizing that most people in general have no idea what a real Texas chili dog is supposed to taste like.  In my stubborness, I refused "to cave" and eat an unworthy-to-me chili dog.  So, hi-ho hi-ho, it was off to work I went:

IMG_7843Yes folks.  Mel's Texas Chili Dog is the very first recipe I ever developed and it took me about a year to get it perfect.  Since we visited my parents in Tamaqua often, many Texas Lunch chili dogs made the trip back to State College for me to taste side-by-side my experiments.  So, back in 2006, when I read in Cook's Country magazine that they were looking for "lost recipes" (the criteria being the recipe had to be:  #1) Original.  #2) Prefaced by a short story/memory.  #3)  Not readily found in any other cookbook.), I stopped what I was doing that morning and sent the recipe in that afternoon.  The moment I put the flag up on the mailbox, I was 100% confident my recipe was going in their book -- not the slightest doubt in my mind.

Now, if my Texas Lunch story weren't enough authentic commentary for you, one of my best friends in and from high school, Gary Sassaman, who started blogging about eight years ago, blogged about the Texas Lunch back in 2005.  Gary and I graduated in 1973 and Gary's blog, Innocent Bystander, has been keeping me entertained for years.  Gary's encouragement is pretty much solely responsible for my starting my own blog!  To read Gary's own extrememly humorous commentary on and remembrances of the Texas Lunch, check out:

It's finally time to make real-deal Texas-style chili dog sauce.  

Texas Chili Dogs #3 (Ingredients) For 4 cups of Texas Chili Sauce (enough for 16 hot dogs):

2  tablespoons corn oil

1  pound London broil (sometimes labeled as bottom round steak), no subsitutions

8  ounces yellow or sweet onion (8 ounces after trimming and peeling)

4  ounces celery stalks

1  garlic clove (about 1 teaspoon minced garlic)

1/2  cup ketchup

1/2 cup chili sauce

2  tablespoons yellow mustard, no substitutions

2  tablespoons cayenne pepper sauce

1  tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1  tablespoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

*For 22 cups of Texas Chili Sauce (enough to freeze in 2- or 4-cup containers), which the making of is pictured below:

3/4  cup corn oil

6  pounds London broil (sometimes labeled as bottom round steak), no substitutions

3  pounds yellow or sweet onion (3 pounds after trimming and peeling)

1 1/2  pounds celery stalks

8  large garlic cloves (about 2 tablespoons minced garlic)

3  cups ketchup

3  cups chili sauce (3, 12-ounce bottles)

3/4  cup yellow mustard, no substitutions

3/4  cup cayenne pepper sauce

6  tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

6  tablespoons chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves

*Note:  This recipe is ideal for making a large quantity and freezing.  I make a big batch once a year.  For a quick weeknight meal, I microwave a container of sauce while broiling the hot dogs.  All Summer long, it's on-hand in the freezer, waiting for an impromptu picnic or barbeque.  During the Fall, my tailgate group, 40 strong, always requests Texas chili dogs to be served at one game -- in a snap I thaw some sauce, take it to the stadium and reheat it while grilling the hot dogs.

Texas Chili Dogs #4 (Trimmed Meat) ~ Step 1.  Trim the London broil of all visible fat and cut the meat into 1"-1 1/2" chunks/cubes.

PLEASE do not substitute ground beef in this recipe.  Even America's test kitchen comments on this in their book, stating:  Processing the steak gave it an almost shredded texture, making it much better than just using ground beef.

This is one of the things that makes this recipe so authentic.

Texas Chili Dogs #5 (Processed Meat) ~ Step 2.  In work bowl of food processor fitted with a steel blade, grind the chunks of London broil, using a series of 30-45 on-off pulses.

Note:  My food processor does this in 2, 3-pound batches, which takes less than 2 minutes!  The number of batches and pulses will be determined by the size and brand of your food processor.

Texas Chili Dogs #6 (Processed Garlic & Onions) ~ Step 3.  Coarsely chop the onions into large, 2"+ chunks and pieces.  Place them and the garlic cloves the work bowl of processor fitted with a steel blade.  Using a series of on-off pulses, finely mince the onion.  My processor did all 3 pounds of onion in one batch and 30 on-off pulses.  In this instance, you want the onion to be as finely minced as possible without pureeing it or becoming soupy.

Texas Chili Dogs #7 (Processed Celery) ~ Step 4.  Coarsely chop the celery stalks into large, 2"+ pieces and place them in processor fitted with a steel blade.  Using a series of on-off pulses, finely mince the celery.  My processor minced all of the celery in one batch using 20 on-off pulses.  In this instance (just like the onion), you want the celery to be minced as finely as possible without pureeing it or becoming soupy.

Texas Chili Dogs #8 (Meat & Vegetables in Pan) ~ Step 5.  Before you process the meat and vegetables, place your stockpot on the stove and add the corn oil.  If you are making just 4 cups of Texas chile sauce, use a 4-quart stockpot.  Today, I'm using a 16" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides to prepare 22 cups of chili sauce.  As you process the meat and vegetables, add them to the pot as you work.  Using a large spoon, thoroughly combine all ingredients, and:

Texas Chili Dogs #10 (Meat Cooked & Liquid Evaporated) ~ Step 6.  Over medium- medium-high heat, cook the mixture, stirring frequently, until the meat has lost all of its red color and is steamed through.  Keep your heat adjusted so that at no time, no browning occurs.  Continue to cook until almost no moisture/liquid remains in the bottom of pot.  For the large quantity, this takes about 50-60 minutes.  For 4 cups, this will take as little as 10-12 minutes.

Texas Chili Dogs #11 (Ketchup Mixture) ~ Step 7.  In a measuring container or mixing bowl, combine the ketchup, chili sauce, yellow mustard, cayenne pepper sauce, Worcertershire sauce, chili powder and ground cloves.  Stir until smooth and uniform in color.  You can do this while the meat is cooking.

When almost all of the moisture/liquid has evaporated from the meat, stir the sauce mixture into the meat mixture.

Texas Chili Dogs #12 (Sauce Cooked) ~ Step 8.  Adjust heat to a very gentle simmer.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until sauce has reduced and thickened slightly.  For the large quantity, this takes about 30-40 minutes.  For the 4-cup batch, this takes about 20 minutes.  Turn the heat off, partially cover the pot and allow the mixture to steep and cool, 1-2 hours, to allow all of the great flavors to marry.

You now have Texas Chili Sauce.

Texas Chili Dogs #14 (Hot Dog Ingredients) ~ Step 9.  This not an official step and I can't tell you how or in what order you want your Texas chili dog topped, but I highly recommend:

Potato hot dog rolls, Hebrew National all-beef 1/4 pound franks (broiled), Mel's Texas Chili Sauce, French's yellow mustard, minced red onion, salt and pepper.


Texas Chili Dogs #13 (Sauce in Containers)"If you made the big batch, you will certainly thank me now!  If you made the little batch, you won't, definitely won't, make that mistake twice!!!"

~ Melanie

Top w/chili sauce, ballpark mustard & diced onion:

6a0120a8551282970b0134892e6577970cMel's Texas-Style Chili Sauce and Texas Chili Dogs:  Recipe yields 4 cups of sauce, which will top 16 hot dogs, or, 22 cups of sauce (to be made ahead and frozen), enough to top 88 hot dogs.

IMG_7950Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 12-quart stockpot w/lid or 16" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid(or a stockpot/pan sized appropriately for how much sauce is being made); large spoon; 2-4-cup size food storage containers, preferably glass (optional); aluminum foil sheets (optional)

IMG_7960Cook's Note:  I freeze my chili sauce in 2-cup size containers, which is enough to top 8 hot dogs.  For an added treat, as you are assembling your hot dogs:  while the dogs and the sauce are still hot, wrap each chili dog, fully topped/assembled, in a piece of aluminum foil and set aside for 2-3 minutes, to allow the buns to steam!  Yum!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie (Maliniak) Preschutti, TAHS '73

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)


Steve -- If you posted a review on my PUBLIC website, it would have appeared here. Perhaps you previewed your review and forgot to follow it up by posting it. Just so it's clear -- no one takes down comments on this website (unless they are from "sellers" -- people selling a product or service). Sorry you were disappointed by my recipe that has received great reviews from all sorts of folks and groups from the immediate locale: Tamaqua, Coaldale, Lehighton, Mahonoy City, etc. I'm sure if you search the internet, you'll find one more to your liking. PS: If you followed my recipe to the letter, it wouldn't, taste or texturally, be anything like a sloppy Joe.

Wow...I find it interesting that I gave a review on this and it wasn’t posted. I found the recipe nothing like the Texas Lunch. It was more like a spicy version of what we called a sloppy Joe. Very disappointed

Steve -- I think you will find this as close to the original as close can get. And you are correct -- steam the buns!!!

Let me know what you think after you make it. ~ Melanie

Thanks for this....I’m 60 and still look for the hotdog as good as the Texas Lunch. A lot of found memories with my father going there. Looking forward to trying the recipe. I think Berks hotdogs are the closest. Have to steam the buns

Thanks Dave -- you are going to love it -- everyone does! We are --

follow you on BSD and enjoy this recipe. doing a batch up for the Akron game tonight.

Kind of a follow-up to one I sent earlier. One of the pictures refers to the owner, Dino. Actually, the original owner of the Texas Lunch was Pete Konstas. Most people were not aware that Pete was the father of Angie Konstas, Tamaqua High School English teacher and assistant football coach; and his brother, Dino, who took over the restaurant when his father could no longer work at it. Dino was a great guy. He and I were both members of the Tamaqua Jaycees when I got out of the military and graduated from college in the 70's.

Jeffrey! Thank-you for confirming something "I thought I remembered": The Texas Lunch served fried egg sandwiches. I was very young at the time, but I thought I remembered my dad occasionally ordering an egg sandwich for lunch!

I for one ate at both places, greasy pete's & coney island , pete also made great fried egg sandwiches, which I had one on 6/29/1972 the morning before I left for Ft. Dix, NJ . My one older brother Bebo work at Coney Island . Jeffrey Reehl , AKA Humphrey ...

Frank! Thank you so much for sharing your story about Texas Pete, the train tracks and the engineer! Isn't it "funny" (in a great way) how that very little establishment affected so many of our lives in a very big way! PS: I was usually there during the daytime hours when Bill was working.

Enjoyed this piece about the Coney and Texas Petes. Always remember stopping in Sat. nights after movies, etc. Place was crowded as usual but seemed Sat nights there was always a few customers who had one too many beers. Was always funny to see Pete react to their antics, althought Pete didn't think it was so funny. I also remember being there when the train came down the track in the rear of the bldg. Tracks were so close, Pete, if he could, hand the engineer a hot dog without leaving the grill. Was a great pleasure to see this photo of Texas Pete's. Never realized Angie Konstas was Pete's son.

Ron! Thanks for chiming in on this one. I completely forgot about Sozio's bakery and, oh, what I wouldn't give for one of those cherry cokes again!!!

I ate at all the places mmentioned. I loved the Napoli pizza, but the best pizza was from the Italian (Sozio's) Bakery in the back ally behind my house on Elizabeth St. Sozio made it on a hugh cookie sheet with a three inch Italian crust. I think he only charged a buck and a quarter. It was delicious. I remember the Mayflower very well and their cherry cokes. If I remember right, Al Gober was the owner. Ron Krause.

jwelsh! I am so glad you enjoyed them! They are a family a favorite and I can tell you: a month rarely goes by without my making them!

What a treat!!!!!!!

Vince! How lovely to hear from you! Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog post as I had so much fun writing it. I was just back in Hometown/Tamaqua on Monday visiting my mom and dad! I did a couple of cruises around the town "for old times sake". I do remember all of the places you mentioned and aside from Nicks and the The Coffee Cup have eaten in all of them! Hope to hear from you again!

They were the best of many in Tamaqua in the 50s and 60s. There was the 5 point diner, Palma Maria, Napoli,, Depos's, the S & A, Nicks, the Coffee Cup. What a great place to grow up. I sit with Angie Konstas at the American Legion in Summit Hill (Texas Pete was his Dad) and we'll reminisce about Tamaqua and those days. Hot dogs weren't 2 for a Dollar, they were 3 for a quarter at the Texas Lunch. I believe hamburgers were about 20 cents. There was one on Broad Street in the early 50s called the Mayflower. It was just up the street from the Coney Island. Materially we had little but they were better times. Vince Suzadail Jr.

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